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No, Augustus decided, he shouldn’t go toward the warmth. He didn’t know where it led, or, in fact, what was causing the warmth. And if it was a way out—if the warmth came from areas nicer than this horrid, dark cave, should he really do it alone?
That thought jarred him and for a moment he almost failed to keep treading water. He couldn’t think of it like that, he reminded himself, not and risk losing the ability to observe the divination. If he began to conflate the past with the present, the divination could take him all manner of places. He wasn’t his past self. He was simply observing it. No matter what he did here, the past wouldn’t change.
He moved his numb arms, swimming to the edge of the pool and slowly pulling himself out of it, shivering as a howling wind through the caves stole any warmth he might have from his soaked, icy clothes. Carefully, he touched the dragonfly on his chest, which shifted around a little and dripped warm blood over his heart, though Enmity didn’t speak. Perhaps he was too busy observing.
Or perhaps it was becoming difficult for him to simultaneously maintain the divination spell and his intrusion into the voidspace that Augustus had temporarily created to summon him into.
Like Enmity had said, it would be better to not waste time. Augustus had to make his decisions and stick to them. Screwing up his courage, he felt along the walls until he found a tunnel entrance, and ran into it.
He did is best to angle toward the screaming voice, even if he couldn’t tell for sure if it were friend or foe. The tone was urgent and incoherent, terrified and furious and in pain, and it was as liable to be hunting him as it was to be begging for his help, but it might be Vii. And even if it wasn’t, it had to have information about what went wrong. The last memory he had explored had been right before the ritual. Was this one still before? Was it during or even after?
He slammed into a wall in the darkness, sucked a pained breath, and felt along until he located the bend. Keeping one hand on the wall, and the other out in front of him to help prevent other accidents, he ran. The icy, wet stone scraped against his hand, and he couldn’t hear himself running, couldn’t hear himself thinking, not for the echoing screams and shouts and babbled, impossible words. If only he could see where he was going, it might be easier to angle himself toward it, but all he could do was keep turning to wherever it seemed louder, and louder, and louder. He went down twice, three times, four, he ran into another wall or two despite his best efforts. Everything felt scraped raw: his skin, his throat, his nerves.
But: eventually, as the sound became louder and louder, as the incoherent wailing almost began to form comprehensible words, as he began to pick up another strange sound under it, crackling and singing and glittering, he realized he could see the outlines of the tunnels, the shapes of the walls. There was light up ahead somewhere, filtering down, and with the advantage of vision, he put on a burst of speed.
Gasping and wheezing, he stumbled to his knees as he came out into a large, central cavern. It was lit with a fire, with candles, and opened to the outdoors; a cold wind ran through it, and moonlight filtered through. Here was where the ritual was done, he thought, and the proof of it was the
the thing that was pulling itself through
no it wasn’t pulling itself through it was
it was halfway out of a
a gash bleeding unreality into the cave, it was a thing which
it was almost deer-like
it was a little snake-like as well
serpentine, too long, malformed
there were too many legs for the body and they bent the wrong way but they were
deer legs? something like deer legs
because the thing was deer-like, and its neck was too long the same way that its
body? was too long
its antlers split fractal like a lightning figure and they made the world bleed
bleed wherever they were touching and it was familiar he remembered
seeing? this? had he seen it?
the legs ended in human hands instead of hooves, and they were grabbing onto the cave floor, trying to pull itself forward
or, actually, to keep
to keep itself from being pulled back
the rent between planar space and non-planar space was trying to pull it back in, Augustus thought
and then thought vanished again because he realized that one of the beast’s hands was wound around Soren’s ankles. it did not bend like a hand should, and Soren’s ankle was no longer bending the way an ankle should.
it was pulling Soren into the rift or, rather, it was failing to keep from being sucked back into it itself, its fingers losing its grip off the rough floor, and it was simply dragging
dragging Soren with it as it scrabbled and tried to pull itself free. he was screaming. Soren was the one who was screaming. He was begging. Incoherent.
Augustus made himself not look at the beast and instead ran for Soren, trying to listen to his words. They weren’t formed very well, but given what was happening here, Augustus could hardly blame him. “Why did you come back? You abandoned me! You abandoned him! You abandoned you! Didn’t you free yourself! Why did you come back! Don’t I deserve to die to this! Don’t I deserve to live like this! Didn’t you abandon me! You never loved me! So why would you come back! Augustus! Violin! Augustus! Violin! Abandon me! Claim me! Take me! Leave me! Don’t I deserve it?”
(Violin? Augustus thought? Was that Vii’s given name? Terrible. Dreadful. It felt right, for all that it was a horrid name for someone to give their son. Soren yelled it like vee-oh-lihn, not Vie-oh-lin, but still—) He almost laughed and knew he was crying, feeling heat pouring down his cheeks.
But he didn’t have to control his body, at least, because his past self was doing it for him again. He felt himself grab onto Soren, trying to pull him away from the creature, and then when that was unsuccessful, he grabbed the hand that was on Soren’s ankle, the hand that was attached to the end of that broken, spider-like deer leg, and as he touched it, he felt it freeze.
The movement was so still after all that scrabbling that he turned to look up at the head at the end of that giraffe-snake-deer neck, and that head had a human face, and that face was Vii’s.
Augustus shoved away from it, pulling Soren back in a horrified recoil, and between that and its sudden stillness, it lost its grip altogether. The rift in space sucked it back in, and Vii’s mouth opened and it let out a scream that was both human and not, a sobbing, shattering sound that felt like drinking broken glass.
His mind lacerated.
All went blank.
And he lunged upward, sucking a deep, horrified breath, sobbing. For a second, he thought he was back there and the creature had him, had wrapped its limbs around him, but instead it was Enmity, holding him hard. He was awake, he was alive. The last couple of decades returned to him in a rush and gave him some distance from the dream, or memory, or whatever it was.
“Sorry,” he heard himself say. “Just a moment. I need to calm down.”
“Yeah,” Enmity said, for once not adding any additional commentary.
Calmness returned remarkably fast. He wasn’t sure if Enmity was doing something to hurry it along, or if his own mind was just wrapping the memory back up to protect him, muffling it, or what. But his crying stopped, though his shaking didn’t quite. “Okay,” he managed to say, after however long that took. “Did you see that?”
“I saw the most of it,” Enmity said. “But thine mind wast not understanding the last part, so all I saw was fragments. I could but see the parts thou couldst share with me.” He seemed … worried. It was a little touching, given who and what he was.
“That might have been for the best,” Augustus murmured, low.
“What dost thou think happened?” Enmity asked. “And babe, what the hell should you—and I!—do about it?”
That was a good question. He still hadn’t seen the actual ritual—might need Soren himself for that, he understood. But what could he piece together, nevertheless? And then … what should his next steps be? Tomorrow was Thirdsday, he reminded himself, feeling infinitely far from concepts like a workweek existing. He needed rest, but at least he had the rest of the night, and then tomorrow morning free. Then, a three-hour class to teach in the afternoon. An evening when he’d invited Soren over.
Previously, Augustus had suggested that he perform the ritual that would let Enmity temporarily manifest in physical, human-guise flesh—which could last a day or two, but then it would be be hard to bring him back for a while again after, as the planes’ borders would identify him after a time and try to shut him back out. So even if he did do that, should he do it now, or later?
It was so hard to try to plan for tomorrow with his mind still aching like this.
[What does Augustus think happened?
What should Augustus plan to do tomorrow?
Comment with details.]